Political bridges impossible in a divided country – Greeley Tribune

I have been a bridge between many groups for years. I do, but I don’t have any special skills other than objectivity and a willingness to listen.

Often I only manage to make everyone angry and make myself an anti-aircraft target from all sides. My bridge building began negotiating with the American world on behalf of my dear old grandmother, who was born on her father’s ranch in South Texas in 1884 and had never learned a word of English.

To them, South Texas was still the province of New Spain that their ancestors had founded. The Spanish Mexicans called it Nuevo Santander. When Mexico gained independence from Spain, it was called Tamaulipas.

Things have of course changed. My father went to war in 1942 and was quickly assimilated into US society. My mother couldn’t switch so easily. She spoke English at times, but I had to interpret the cultural conventions of the Anglo-Saxon world for her.

My old people are gone now, but I still enjoy interpreting for many people. There is still the divide between the American Anglo world and the Mexican, Chicano, Latin American world.

When I worked for the City of Colorado Springs Human Relations Commission (HRC), I facilitated sessions on cross-cultural communication.

I would say to my Anglo-Saxon majority audience, “I’ll tell you all about the Mexican world if you tell me all about the Anglo-Saxon world.” Of course, that’s impossible. The point was that my perspective was just one perspective and that learning how to communicate in multicultural America is a lesson for many teachers. And it works both ways: you learn about the dominant culture and you learn about the other cultures.

That’s the ideal, but it rarely works that way because the dominant Anglo culture is so powerful that it becomes the de facto only channel of communication. And that was the main problem with this type of bridge construction.

With the HRC I have also mediated in disputes between citizens and between citizens and local government. I have often mediated in conflicts between citizens and the police. That required a kind of bridge building. Sometimes the other staff and I were successful in mediating between the police and the community. Other times we weren’t.

But at least by the 1970’s and 1980’s we were advanced enough to have this intercultural communication and mediation service. It made for a more peaceful community. But we are not there yet.

I don’t like extremes of the political right and the political left. Nevertheless, I try to build bridges between the political extremes of our bitterly divided country.

The attitudes have hardened so much that I will give up this kind of bridge building. This is unfortunate because neither side has all the solutions to the many challenges we face. If we could only talk, we would find that good solutions come from conservatives and liberals.

I always try to bridge the gap between the political parties and the Chicanos.

A Democratic politician recently asked me how to reach Latinos from Colorado. I was dismayed at his belated realization of the need to do so.

I said to him, “Don’t fall into the Latino trap, the vast category that fails to define the uniqueness of the many groups it encompasses. If you want to communicate effectively with us here in Colorado, then get to know us. Eligible Mexicans have lived here for centuries. We are not immigrants.”

The suggestion of democratic ignorance seemed to shock him. On the other hand, Republicans have shown me their serious forays into the Hispanic community, particularly in South Texas.

I tell them, “They’ve attracted mostly fair-skinned Mexican Americans, people who pass as white. Let’s see how you deal with the dark, brown-skinned masses.”

She seemed shocked at the reference to Republican racism.

But enough. Like I said, I don’t think I’ll build more bridges.

The political kind anyway.

— Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS. He teaches Mexico/US border studies and US military history.

https://www.greeleytribune.com/2022/07/23/opinion-joe-barrera-political-bridge-building-impossible-in-a-divided-country/ Political bridges impossible in a divided country – Greeley Tribune

James Brien

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